Interview: James Lee on the K-Pop Industry + His New Single ‘Mad’

Stephanie Michova

While James Lee might have started out as the bassist in the K-Pop band, Royal Pirates, but after surviving a near fatal accident, Lee changed his perspective literally, he has since branched out on his own. Fans can listen to his new collaboration between James and Neko (multi-platinum producer and songwriter Erik Lidbom). Lee said that the K-Pop industry not only taught him performance, but also how to communicate with the audience and really connect. James discusses his musical influences, his new single “Mad,” and the one thing that fans might not know about him. Read on to find out more about this brave and talented singer and songwriter.

Stephanie Michova

GLITTER: How would you describe your sound?

JAMES: For self-written and produced tracks, I gravitate towards pop/electronic/hip hop. For the NEKO X JAMES collab (Neko being the stage name of a multi-platinum producer and songwriter Erik Lidbom), we really just wrote whatever felt right the day of.

GLITTER: What does being an artist mean to you?

JAMES: It’s what I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a kid. I prioritize it over eating, sleeping and everything else – it occupies my attention at all times. Being an artist is sharing yourself creatively and leaving your mark on this world. It’s both the acts of expression and self-discovery.

GLITTER: What can you tell us about the K-Pop industry? Has it prepared you in any way for breaking out as a solo artist?

JAMES: The K-pop industry taught me that performance is not just expression, but communication with the audience. Before I moved to Korea I selfishly only cared about rocking out and enjoying music for myself.After my time there (in Korea) I learned that training hard was the baseline and that there were people working every moment you were resting to help you become a better artist. I learned music performance is not just a feeling but a craft that can improve with dedication and discipline. I don’t see myself as a ‘singer’ because there are so many people with God-given vocal talent. But writing songs by and for myself has been the most therapeutic thing I’ve done since my accident. I don’t know what else I would do.

GLITTER: What can you tell us about your new single “MAD?”

JAMES: For the NEKO X JAMES collab project, I really wanted to work with one of the most talented producers in the world to not just elevate my game, but to have fun with music again.“MAD” is my departure from THE LIGHT EP, which was how I channeled my struggle after the accident. It’s about being sick of being sick. Over the years, I realize over and over again that I’m in control of how I feel. Even when my hand got cut off, it was really up to me how I moved forward. That’s why the hook is, ‘I just wanna move on.’

GLITTER: Where do your musical influences come from?

JAMES: My first love was Backstreet’s “No Diggity.” I loved the rhythm and groove of that track. Afterwards, I fell in love with pop-punk and metal bands. But recently I feel most inspired to write by pioneers like the The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. I can’t help but gravitate towards using some elements with a groove that feel good to me. Maybe because I was a bassist for so long, I blend a lot of genres.

GLITTER: Do you play any instruments?

JAMES: Before my accident I played bass. I started off on trumpet and was a fan of Chet Baker. But now I just play the piano roll on logic because my wrist swells up and hurts when in certain positions for too long

Stephanie Michova

GLITTER: What is the song-writing process like for you?

JAMES: Typically a melody will get stuck in my head and I’ll just record it on my voice notes. Then I open up logic and mess around with some different sounds. If I catch the right vibe I will move forward with the song. When I write for other artists, I usually try to find a way to highlight their character.

GLITTER: Will we see a full-length album from you soon?

JAMES: Not anytime soon. This year I want to focus on releasing more music but I feel like placing it all on one album is a project that requires a good marketing strategy to stay afloat. So I will just keep continuously writing and release when it feels right.

GLITTER: How do you stay grounded in this business?

JAMES: It’s about knowing everybody is fighting their own demons. I think knowing yourself is one of the important parts of being an artist. I’ve endured many physically and mentally painful events. The last four years have been hell. However, accepting that my hell is not special, but universal, makes me realize we can all relate to each other from our experiences.

GLITTER: What’s the longest a fan has ever waited to meet you?

JAMES: When I had the release show for THE LIGHT EP in LA last year, one of my fans flew from Japan to see me perform. I will never forget her for staying so supportive for so long.

Stephanie Michova

GLITTER: Any hidden talents?

JAMES: Na, just a really cute dog with a quirky personality.

GLITTER: Best advice you were ever given?

JAMES: Enjoy your life. What’s the point if you’re brooding all the time?

GLITTER: What is one thing your fans may not know about you?

JAMES: I really work to stay positive. I have to focus and strategize to do it because it’s my nature to think of worst case scenarios. But having the opportunity to work on projects like the NEKO X JAMES collab have been highlights and milestones that keep me excited about every single day.

GLITTER: Glitter has a Celebrity #SelfLoveCampaign, what’s self-love mean to you?

JAMES: To me, self-love is accepting myself and knowing I can be a better person instead of sulking about the things I may lack. It’s identifying the potential for growth and following through.

GLITTER: Who is your dream collaboration with?

JAMES: I’d love to collab with Post Malone, Bieber or Blackpink. Recently I’ve become a Lisa fan. Hell yeah.

GLITTER: What do you have planned for the upcoming year?

JAMES: I will release quite a few tracks with NEKO XJAMES (that will include more guest collabs) as well as more personal music. I’ve also got some exciting shows coming up I can’t talk about just yet…but hopefully I can tour in the U.S. this year.

GLITTER: How can fans follow you?

JAMES: Instagram: @jamesjhl Website: nekoxjames.com and jamesleeofficial.com Twitter: @jamesjoohyunle